Happy Monday & welcome to Rather Be Reading. I’m thrilled debut author Juliana Romano is stopping in to talk about her book: FIRST THERE WAS FOREVER — a book about two best friends going through a lot of changes. It’s one of my top reads this year, and Publishers Weekly liked it too: “Fans of Sarah Dessen and Jenny Han won’t want to miss this sensitive exploration of romantic and platonic relationships in flux, and young women coming into their own.”
Truth be told, I grabbed Juliana’s book for my recent trip to Disney World to meet Magan and was thrown into a rare moment where I would “rather be reading” than prancing around the Magic Kingdom. This is pretty much the best endorsement I could ever give a book. Anyway, check out what Juliana (who is also a painter) had to say about friendships, her awesome setting, and what she is working on next!
Estelle: Friendships are so complicated, and you did a wonderfully heartbreaking job of showing the highs and lows in Lima and Hailey’s relationship. They loved each other so much and that’s what made how each of them were changing so hard to read about. What do you think is the key to lasting friendship? Is it possible to get through high school unscathed?
Juliana: I’m so happy you connected with Lima and Hailey’s ups and downs. It’s hard to say what makes a friendship last, but in my experience, its trust and sharing a sense of humor. The friendships that I have that have lasted since high school or college, are ones where no one ever crossed the line into territory where one of us got really hurt. But the friends who I lost because either they hurt me or I hurt them, like Lima and Hailey, those friendships were really important, too. I learned a lot about myself and about love from those relationships. I think it’s important to remember that friendships that end aren’t bad friendships, sometimes it’s just how it goes.
Estelle: In so many cases, Lima’s curiosity made her a stronger person. Did you know how much you wanted her to grow when you started the book?
Juliana: No, I really didn’t! I knew that I wanted her to learn to make choices, but I felt very connected to her and very open to her journey while she was on it. I didn’t totally know where she was going to end up until she got there.
Estelle: I loved so much about the book, but one detail I thought was particularly awesome (especially because it was young adult) was the exploration of sex. It was so honest. When you set out to write this book, did you know it was going to be a YA? Did you have a barometer for how far you wanted it to go?
Juliana: Yes, I definitely knew I wanted to write YA. I didn’t think about whether or not that meant there could be real sex, but I assumed it would be OK because there is sex in a lot of YA books. Sex in this book was really important to me because its one of the ways that I think Lima tests her own boundaries and surprises herself. I feel like parting of growing up is stepping into new roles and seeing how they feel, and that can be really scary.
Estelle: California is like its own character in your book; the setting was so alive. What’s one spot in your book you would recommend your readers visiting?
Juliana: Ahh so hard to say! In LA, I think the beaches are great. I’d go to the Santa Monica Pier and ride the Ferris Wheel and then just walk along the sand. It’s touristy and kitschy but that kind of adds to the romance. The charm of LA is about things being not-quite perfect.
Estelle. Can you tell us one secret about the book you’re working on now?
Juliana: There’s a boy in it with very green eyes. And it takes place in another city with a whole other set of characteristics than LA. Think: skyscrapers and yellow cabs and bridges
Big hugs to Juliana for answering my questions!
For more on Juliana Romano: her website ; twitter ; instagram
For more on FIRST THERE WAS FOREVER: my pub date ; review
My Best Everything by Sarah Tomp ( web | tweet )
Published March 3, 2015 by Little, Brown
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: summer after graduation, small town, family secrets, alcoholism, religion
Format read: Borrowed from the library
Summary: After graduating from her small Virginia high school, Lulu is set to leave her hometown for college in California but when her dad loses the money that was going to send her there, she is desperate to find a Plan B. With her best friends and Mason, a mysterious older boy, she leads the charge to cash in on an illegal moonshine venture.
If only everything went according to plan, right? High school graduate Lulu is ready to escape her small town living and head to California for college, but the very same person who motivated her to dream big is the same person holding her back. Her dad has spent the money meant for her college education and now she’s forced to stay in town with her crumbling mom, the same friends, and no idea what to do with her future.
Lulu’s not going to let her dad’s carelessness and selfishness get her down. When a moonshine still is dropped off at the junkyard she currently works, it plants a seed that launches into one big, crazy plan — dive into the illegal world of making moonshine and selling it. It might not be lucrative but it will make her the money she needs. She ropes in her best friend, Roni, and her boyfriend, and, by some kind of luck, Mason — part of a long line of moonshiners — happens to fold into her life at the right time. He has the knowledge and the connections, and helps this plan along (at times, apprehensively).
My Best Everything is Lulu’s story, and Sarah Tomp writes it as if Lulu is talking directly to Mason. Even though they are complete opposites, they totally bond during the summer and slowly fall in love. Mason is the first teenage recovering alcoholic I’ve met in a young adult book, and his struggle to ignore his demons paired with Lulu’s first foray into experimentation makes for an interesting parallel. Lulu goes from someone who goes on “Daddy dates” and takes weekly confessions at the church to someone who is questioning her relationship with God and all she’s been told about abstinence. I really enjoyed these moments. It’s ironic how the small town she is so desperate to leave still (unexpectedly) provides her with so much that last summer.
The small town girl wanting to leave the confines of her home for a bigger world isn’t a new story. We’ve heard it time and time again, but Tomp made it her own with intricate detail, a solid best friendship, and a main character who wants so badly to think the best of people and make the most of herself.
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Boys Don’t Knit by T.S. Easton ( web | tweet )
Published March 24, 2015 by Feiwel & Friends
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: knitting, friendships, family, outcasts
Format read: ARC paperback from Publisher (Thanks!)
Summary: Paranoid, overthinker Ben gets caught in a scheme that he didn’t want to be a part of and he’s forced to take a class and serve the community — which leads him to a surprising hobby: knitting.
Talk about utterly charming. Ben, like so many people I know — ahem myself — gets very stressed out. Stressed about his kind of shitty friends, how his dad’s not the best parent when his mom is off traveling for work, the girl he likes — all the basic kind of stuff. But when he gets punished for a scheme his friends thought up and he got roped into, all of his stress elevates to a new level. He’s required to keep a journal, take a class, and even do some community service which leads him to a knitting class and forced servitude for a notoriously mean crossing guard.
When Ben starts his knitting class, he has no idea he is 1) going to like it so much 2) be actually pretty good at it — like one of the best in his class. Suddenly, he’s visiting the yarn shop, reading knitting magazines, and listening to podcasts about it too. Unfortunately, he’s afraid of getting made fun of by his friends and, most importantly, his dad, who is constantly trying to get him interested in sports. Few people know about his new passion, and while knitting does alleviate his stress and allow him to think more clearly, he knows he’s digging himself into a new hole of trouble. Eventually he’s going to get found out.
T.S. Easton did a great job here of chatting about how certain hobbies are broken down by gender without preaching how we need to be more lenient with these “rules”. Who the hell cares what makes us happy? Why shouldn’t we be able to do what we want? Especially when that one thing makes us ridiculously happy. Ben does a lot of growing because of this “punishment” and he forces people to look beyond how they think the world should be and show them there’s so much more beyond the frustrating boundaries that permeate our culture.
I laughed, I smiled, and I may have even drawn a tear. Such a fantastic read!
Add BOYS DON’T KNIT to Goodreads | Buy on Amazon | Buy on B&N
Scarlett Undercover by Jennifer Latham ( web | tweet )
Published May 19, 2015 by Little, Brown/Poppy
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: mystery, family secrets, ancient curses
Format read: ARC paperback from Publisher. (Thanks!)
Summary: Scarlett has graduated high school early, and spends her time keeping her town safe by fighting crime. Her latest client — a young kid — sets her on a course she’s not expecting — uncovering her own family secrets.
I’ve never watched Veronica Mars so I won’t be much help with that comparison but what I can tell you is that Scarlett Undercover features one of the most fearless, kick ass female characters I’ve read in awhile. Many times, while I was reading, I forgot she was actually a teenager. In ways it makes sense. She lost her father and her mother. Her closest family is her perpetually busy sister, who is studying to be a doctor. But Scarlett is pretty much running her own detective business and her newest client — Gemma — shows off her protective side as much as it does the side of her that enjoys solving puzzles and helping people.
I can’t give away too much but Gemma’s initial plea to uncover why her older brother has changed so drastically and his role in someone’s suicide turns into a mission that hits all too close to home. Riveting because the story touches on so much of Scarlett’s Muslim roots, the plot builds up a steady momentum but wrapped up a little too quickly — especially for how dangerous everything turned. As another bright side, Scarlett has a subtly flirtatious relationship with her best friend, Deck, that I loved from the get-go.
Diversity, mystery, and strong leading lady = very fun read for me.
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The Wrong Side of Right by Jenn Marie Thorne ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: March 17, 2015
Publisher: Penguin/Dial Books
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: politics, family secrets, step-family, immigration
Summary: After Kate’s mom died in a car accident, she relocated to South Carolina to live with her only blood relatives. That she knows of. A year later, a story breaks that she is the daughter of a politician, a Republican running for president. She’s invited to spend her summer getting to know her father, when, in reality, she’s moving in with strangers (her step-family) and everything about her becomes some sort of strategy to make her father’s campaign a successful one. With this whole new part of her life, can Kate maintain who she has always been?
When I was a kid, I was obsessed with United States Presidents. Obsessed! I could recite any fact; I wrote so many reports about them (just for fun), and I even collected trading cards. (Does anyone remember the cards behind the Little Debbie snack cake boxes?)
So while I would have been just as dumbfounded to find out the father I never knew was running on the Republican ticket, I would have been pretty ecstatic about it too. To be related to someone who might live in the White House? (Who might see Lincoln’s ghost?!) It’s pretty unbelievable, and, honestly, Kate is probably the best kind of kid to have join the campaign trail. She’s smart, she’s focused, she’s loyal, and she wants to make a good impression – not so much on the American people, but with her dad and her extended step-family. Lucky for her, she gets to work on pleasing both.
It’s crazy, having to get to know your dad under these kinds of circumstances. No privacy, no spare moments, and a whole lot of prep and pampering to make Kate look like the ideal American daughter. (If you haven’t read Meghan McCain’s book and you are interested in this kind of behind-the-scenes antics, you should. It’s truly eye opening.) The most interesting transformation is how Kate slowly begins to blend into everything the campaign entails, and starts to lose a little bit of herself along the way. What does she do if she doesn’t agree with all of her father’s policies? Does that threaten their chance at a strong relationship? Discovering your dad is alive is one thing, but “getting to know him” under this kind of microscope is so intense and Jenn Marie Thorne nails this heartbreak, confusion, and need for acceptance so well.
In addition to all the smart political happenings, Kate bonds with her step-mom, Meg, and (mostly) enjoys getting to know her step-siblings. I love how their own reactions to a new person in this family become part of the story too. These relationships have the potential to be so great, but are so difficult too. And as if things couldn’t get any more confusing, Kate starts a secret friendship with Andy, the President’s “bad boy” son. This romance may not have been as much a part of The Wrong Side of Right as I thought it would be, but the parts we did get (the chemistry!) felt like a cherry on top of everything else.
I was unexpectedly taken aback by how consumed I was by this book, especially as Kate morphed into this new version of herself. What would happen when the stakes changed? For anyone looking to read a book with a bright, strong female character, here you go. With a realistic backdrop of what a mixed bag political life can be, Kate’s journey is one of self-discovery as much as it is about family and dealing with the secrets that her mother left behind. It’s a summer of learning about bravery, loyalty, and how acquiescing has little to do with affection and respect.
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An early copy of this book was provided by the publisher.
Allegiant (Divergent #3) by Veronica Roth [twitter • website]
Previously Reviewed Insurgent (Divergent #2)
Publication Date: October 22, 2013
Target Audience: Young Adult
Keywords: dystopia, trilogy, books to movies
Format Read: Hard cover purchased.
Summary: (borrowed from Goodreads) Dual narration by Tris Prior and her beloved Tobias. Their faction-based dystopian society is broken by violence and power struggles, scarred by loss and betrayal. Beyond the fence is even more alarming. Old discoveries are meaningless. Explosive new truths change those she loves. Again she faces impossible choices about courage, allegiance, sacrifice, and love.
• • •
I’m just gonna say right now this is going to be much less of an ordered, typical review (and it’s completely spoiler-free). I need to get out my feelings so maybe then I can move on. But you know what? Moving on after clinging to a series for SO long really hurts.
Allegiant really was the end of an era for me. Roth really opened the flood gate in this last installment of the Divergent series. Of course I knew something big was happening. (In fact, someone spoiled what was going to happen on Instagram (grrr) so I stayed away. My heart was really struggling with finishing the series because I’m so, so bad at goodbyes. They seem so final and I often don’t have enough closure to move on. And if I didn’t read Allegiant, then everything was fine and peachy, right? Wrong.
That’s probably why I had a major, major book hangover after finishing Allegiant. I can’t say that I was absolutely, 100% pleased as punch with how everything wrapped up, but when you invest THAT much in characters and see them fighting so hard, that final page is never going to be enough. I cried and cried (for probably an hour after closing the book). When my husband came home, I tried shoving the book in his hands and told him I needed him to read it immediately. (He couldn’t — stupid grad school.) I was desperate for someone to talk things through with; I felt so isolated!
And that makes me wonder — without being spoilery at all — how Veronica Roth felt having to make some pretty tough decisions in this book. I’m sure there were parts she didn’t want to write, and remembering back to Allegiant’s release date, there was a lot of uproar and disappointment. Going out on a limb here, I applaud Roth for being bold and writing things that absolutely sucked to read about, but ultimately did feel authentic to the story. It can’t be easy to not give your readers what they’re wanting or expecting.
January was the month I wanted to set aside for finishing all of the series I have abandoned. I’m so thankful I didn’t suffer break-up after break-up after break-up. I don’t think I would have ever climbed out of the cavernous valley of depression from saying repeated goodbyes. But hopefully I’ll get around to more of them throughout the year because sometimes goodbyes are necessary.
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One of my favorite times of day to read with my daughter, Everett, is before bedtime. It’s the only time during the day that her Daddy and I are both there to snuggle and read with her. One of us snuggles, the other reads, and we alternate every evening. We don’t always choose bedtime stories to read during that time, but I do really like how they reinforce that everyone has to go to sleep, get some rest, and be refreshed for the new day.
Below I’m sharing a few of our favorites, one that’s on my wish list, and I’m hoping you’ll chime in with a few of your favorite recommendations, too. I didn’t realize until I began this post how narrow this subject seems to be, and I really wanted to branch out from classics like Goodnight Moon.
I hope you enjoy this month’s Little Kids picks! Don’t forget to share your favorite bedtime stories!
BOOKS WE LOVE:
DADDY’S ZIGZAGGING BEDTIME STORY: This is one of our favorite evening stories. I gifted this to Dustyn for his first Father’s Day with Everett last year and it’s silly, goofy, and fun to read. I like that she’ll continue to understand it more as she learns the subjects in the book, and that it’s one that stands out from the rest of the bedtime stories because it’s not quiet and somber. (Goodreads • Amazon)
DISNEY BEDTIME FAVORITES: We were gifted this book for Everett and I’m so glad because I’m positive if we weren’t instilling some Disney foundations into her, Estelle might un-friend me. (I kid, I kid.) These are a bit on the longer side. This book is thicker and will take us a while to read, but I really enjoy getting to share some of my favorite characters with her. (Goodreads • Amazon)
LITTLE OWL’S NIGHT: This is such a sweet tale about a little owl exploring the night and seeing the world “wake up” in the morning. I love the cleverness and creativity of this story! (Goodreads • Amazon)
LLAMA LLAMA RED PAJAMA: Who doesn’t love Llama Llama? This book (and all of the others in the series) is so great. I love the rhyming and the truthfulness of a little Llama getting all freaked out because his momma hasn’t tucked him in bed yet. (Goodreads • Amazon)
THE GOING TO BED BOOK: This is a great book about routine and the things you need to do before bedtime: brush your teeth, take a bath, get dressed, and rock to sleep. It’s a little bit silly, and great with some word repetition. (Goodreads • Amazon)
ON OUR WISH LIST:
THE GOODNIGHT TRAIN: I love the illustrations and the little bit of reverse psychology, “Don’t close your eyes!” as you sheep, clouds, and mermaids! (Goodreads • Amazon)
What are your favorite bedtime stories for your littles?
What book do you hope to pick up from the list above?
99 Days by Katie Cotugno ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: 4/21/15 by HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray
Pages: 384 | Target audience: young adult
Keywords: mothers/daughters, summer before college, bullying, romance
Format read: ARC provided by Publisher via Edelweiss. (Thanks!)
Previously: a review of How to Love
Summary: Molly has 99 days standing between her and college. Can she ignore the past to survive the summer in Star Lake — a place she never wanted to see again? With constant reminders of all that went down last year, it’s impossible to say for sure especially when she finds herself back in the company of the Donnelly brothers.
There’s nothing like a novel that completely revs you up.
Trust me, in the cause of 99 Days, this is the best compliment I can give.
Molly Barlow is back in Star Lake for the first time since her “scandal” became public knowledge. Her time caught between the Donnelly brothers turned into a best-selling novel by her adopted mother, and the reason she lost so many once-important people in her life. In the wake of this devastation, she runs off to boarding school until senior year ends. Caps in the air and she is back for one more summer, planning to hide for the next 99 days… until she can start fresh at college.
Heavy stuff, right? The complexity within this story knows no bounds, especially as the novel unfolds. Molly’s relationship with her mother is shaky, her old best friend Imogen is avoiding her (and why shouldn’t she since Molly cut her off), and her old close friend, Julia, who also happens to be a Donnelly, is making her life a living hell. This is where my blood starts to boil because even though it takes two to tango, Molly has always been the one taking the brunt when it comes to her Donnelly love triangle. Does anyone key Gabe’s car? Does anyone call Gabe a slut? No, of course not. Enter the lovely double standard because it’s here to stay and made me so incredibly angry on Molly’s behalf. The girl feels guilty enough without having to be reminded of it every five minutes, but why should she be ostracized when Gabe still gets treated like Star Lake’s mayor?
My anger is a testament to Katie Cotugno’s writing. She twists what most think of as a black-and-white situation into something so gray, she’s practically discovered new shades. Love is a messy, complicated thing and I haven’t come across a portrayal of it quite as honest and heartbreaking as this one. When you feel something so intensely for two people at the same time, there aren’t words to properly explain that, especially when the end goal is (rightfully so) supposed to be one person. But how do you shut off your brain or your emotions? The reality is… sometimes you just can’t.
You know that bewildered way you feel after you wake up from a vivid dream? That’s exactly how I felt every time I jumped back into this book. I was in such a zone, and suddenly, I was jolted awake, surprised to realize a whole world was still going on around me. 99 Days was that captivating. Sure, the foundation is Molly caught between Patrick, her first love, and Gabe, this guy she clicks with so well, but it’s so much more than that – the loss of trust she feels with her mom, how much she misses being around the Donnellys when their entire family has been a part of her life for so long, how she had a best friend who stood beside her when things got rough and she took her for granted (everyone needs an Imogen in their lives), and the small realizations we make about ourselves and others as time passes.
There are times in our lives where we have to just follow our hearts – however unconventional that may be – and sometimes we just have to forgive ourselves. Molly may not understand why she is feeling the way she is feeling but at least she was honest with herself about that confusion. Most of all, I love how this book can challenge the most compassionate reader. Everyone makes mistakes; no one is perfect and it confuses me why we put the fictional characters we read about on such pedestals. For all you know, I could be Molly. The person sitting next to you could be Molly. Your best friend could be Molly. We desperately need to shift this conversation away from likability and back to whether or not a book tells an engaging story.
Two fun facts before I say adios: The first time I read 99 Days I stayed up until 4 a.m. on a Saturday night because I knew I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep until I knew how it ended. Second: 99 Days is the first (and only) book I’ve reread this year, and I found it just as sexy, intense, messy, and wonderful as I did the first time around. I haven’t felt quite as passionate about a book this year as I do about this one.
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Read an excerpt of 99 DAYS on Epic Reads | The Fantastic Flying Book Club 99 Days Blog Tour
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